Have a Great Time at the Great Minnesota Get-Together!


It’s time for the Great Minnesota Get-Together! The Minnesota State Fair starts Thursday and runs through Labor Day.

Have a Great Time at the Great Minnesota Get-Together! | Duluth Moms Blog

I always get nostalgic around fair time because I grew up practically on it’s door step in the wonderful little neighborhood of St. Anthony Park in St. Paul. Ours was one of the neighborhoods everyone else parked in to get to the fair, but we didn’t need to worry about finding a place to park because we could WALK to its gates! And, believe it or not, as a child, I was allowed to walk to the fair with my friends, my older brother, and even at times by myself.

Yes, it was a safer, simpler time but not without it’s peril. I remember one day, while walking through the Midway, a man called me over to his trinket shop to show me rings. I admired a beautiful sparkly green ring and asked if the stones were real emeralds. He said “Oh, yes!” So I, sucker that I was, got out my money and bought the ring. Those fake emeralds and diamonds were beautifully set on an adjustable metal band!

Another time, I remember going on a ride with a friend. I had a cute little coin purse that held all my money for a day at the fair and when the ride was done, my coin purse was gone. I asked the ride operator about it and he didn’t know where it was. I decided to go get my older brother, who was working at a nearby hamburger stand. He came with me and chewed out the carnie. It didn’t do any good. My brother walked me to the State Fair Police station and told me he had to get back to work. Needless to say I never saw that coin purse again.

Working at the fair was a great gig for teenagers willing to work hard in sweltering conditions over 12 long days. My brother worked at that hamburger stand for a few years. I remember late nights riding with my folks to pick him up. When he got into the car, he brought an entire day of sweat and grease in with him. He told me once he made the mistake of reading the hot dog label, which listed ox lips as one of the main ingredients. Num!

But all the ox lips and nefarious fair workers in the world couldn’t take away from the fun and excitement of the Minnesota State Fair! Living so close, we went several times a year. One of our family’s highlights included the “All-You-Can-Drink-Milk-for-a-Quarter” stand where yes, people stood around drinking glass after glass of ice cold milk. Why you want to do that, Lord only knows. But if you were smart, you had already picked up your bucket of chocolate chip cookies! Then we would walk through the Dairy building, considering ourselves lucky if we could observe the Princess Kay of the Milky Way having her likeness carved into a block of butter. Of course there were the Pronto Pups and Sno-Cones, the free music and exhibits, the daydreaming over which cheap fair novelty to buy (remember those dog-less leashes?), the people-watching and the endless walking, walking, walking all around the fairgrounds.

My absolutely favorite family tradition at the fair was lining up to purchase Tom Thumb donuts and eating them as we rode a brightly-colored boat through the dark tunnels at Ye Old Mill. I can still smell the damp, dark tunnels and hear the rushing water as it pushed the mill wheel. The tunnels were pitch black with only an occasional light cast by cheesy dioramas behind protective wire mesh. We talked, laughed, shrieked and giggled while bobbing along. As we got older, we reached out to the cold stone walls to either slow down or speed up our boat, with the goal of crashing into other boats, which resulted in more screams and laughter.

As the years went by adult responsibilities turned my trips to the Fair into just happy memories. I managed to make it to the Fair once in my late twenties and was simply astounded by the fact that, although many new attractions had been added, most of my favorites from years past were right where I remembered. Many of the buildings at the Fair are permanent structures that are used for the same purpose year after year.

Once I had my own little girl, I was eager to introduce her to the wonders of the Minnesota State Fair. I am fortunate to have a cousin who is a Fair enthusiast and she agreed to attend with us on a weekday when there are typically fewer crowds. We stayed with my aunt in the Cities the night before and boarded a shuttle just a few blocks from her house. The bus dropped us off right at the Transit Hub on the west end of the Fairgrounds.

When bringing a little kid to a large public event, every parent’s worst fear is that they are going to lose their kid. I thought a lot about this ahead of time and took the following safety steps:

  1. My daughter and I wore t-shirts in the same bright chartreuse color.
  2. I wrote my cell phone number in permanent marker in the waistband of her pants.
  3. I tied a bandana to my belt loop and told her she could never, ever let it go. This way both my hands were free to pull out money or carry food. I have to admit I was fortunate in that my daughter wants to be glued to my side at every moment so I didn’t worry too much about her running off.
  4. I took a photo of me and my daughter before heading out. I then texted this photo to my husband and cousin in case I lost my phone.

Once we arrived at the Fair, I just stood and took it all in. It was so exciting to be back! Though I wanted to check EVERYTHING out, that simply was not possible so I selected activities that would be fun for a 5-year-old, which included The Family Fair, Math-on-a-Stick, Little Farm Hands, the Pet Pavilion, musical performances, and the daily parade at 2 pm. And, to my delight, I finally found Ye Old Mill with Tom Thumb donuts right next door! We got our donuts and settled down for a fun ride. Hmm, the boats were wobblier, the tunnels were darker and the water rushed way faster than I remembered! 

All of these activities are located in the same general area on the east side of the Fairgrounds. Since we entered on the west side, and I was concerned about those little 5-year-old legs holding up, I decided to buy round-trip tickets to the Skyride. Our ride east was a great introduction to the Fair and our ride west was a welcome respite from all the walking. By the time we got off, it was just a short walk back to our bus at the Transportation Hub. The North-South running SkyGlider gives fairgoers on the east side of the grounds the same fun and relaxing break from all the walking.

These strategies, combined with leaving the Fair while we still were having fun, paid off and my daughter and I had a great time at the Great Minnesota Get-Together!

Have any great Fair memories or tips on how to safely enjoy the Minnesota State Fair with your kids? Please share!

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Sarah VanderMeiden
A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Sarah is a dyed-in-her-wool-socks Minnesotan whose life-long love of woods and water drew her to move to Duluth 23 years ago this November. An avid hiker, she loves to explore all locales on Lake Superior’s shore, snowshoe frozen North Shore rivers and go for walks in Duluth’s Lester Park. Working in Higher Education for over 20 years, Sarah’s greatest joy was to talk with students about how to navigate the challenges of college, what they wanted to do with their lives and how to make their dreams come true. After stepping out of this career to be a stay-at-home-mom, Sarah has returned to her passion of helping people achieve their personal and professional goals as a Board Certified Coach. To find out more about coaching and her background, visit sarahvandermeiden.com or find her on Facebook at Sarah VanderMeiden Coaching . Sarah’s family lives in the country and share their five acres with a small flock of laying hens, deer, wild turkey, way too many mice and 10,000 honeybees. Sarah has given up gardening and keeping her house clean to pursue her many interests including enjoying the lake, singing, photography and spending time with her family camping in their vintage travel trailer or tickling each other on the couch.